Designer Michael Ijioma doesn’t sew with patterns, choosing to personalize each garment for the person who’s wearing it.
“I cut according to your body,” Ijioma said. “I go with the pattern of the person.”
His designs line the walls of Michael Iji Custom Design & Tailoring Studio, which he opened in August. The custom shirts feature his signature hidden button style, unique front panel designs and trim cuts.
Ijioma uses Egyptian cloth woven in Italy for his line. He stocks fabric as space permits and has special orders shipped directly from Italy.
Michael Iji Design got its start in Ijioma’s native Nigeria, where he learned to sew at age 14. As a young adult, he traveled the world, eventually landing in Italy where he worked as a sewer for a fashion house while continuing to work on his own designs.
While in Italy, Ijioma met his American-born wife, Adrienne, who was teaching English. The couple relocated to Adrienne’s hometown of Detroit in 2009 when she was expecting their first child.
“I continued designing, doing home designing, but it was not what I wanted,” he said.
But the timing was off, and Detroit’s economy was bottoming out, Adrienne said.
“I did a lot of research and decided we should move to North Carolina,” Adrienne Ijioma said. “It was green, and if I couldn’t live in Italy, I wanted to be here.”
Michael Ijioma, 41, took a series of jobs in furniture factories, bridal salons and alteration shops while the family tried to get on its feet.
“We worked our way up from zero,” Adrienne said.
The family moved to Cary a year and a half ago.
Encouraged by local retailers interested in carrying Michael’s designs, the Ijiomas decided the time was right to open a studio in Cary. Starting from scratch, they built furniture to outfit the space and have launched a campaign on Kickstarter.com, a crowd-funding website, to expand the space and add more personnel.
With seed money, Ijioma said, he could stock more fabric and cut down on the turnaround time for one of his designs. With fabric in hand, he says he can have a shirt made in a week. “But in an emergency, I can have it in one day,” he said.
There are different categories of designers, he said.
“Some might go buy a pattern and then send it to China to be made,” he said. “But to be a true designer you have to have your own studio, design it from scratch and be there to show the production line how it’s done.”
Although men’s shirts are his mainstay, he also designs vests and ties that are popular for proms and weddings. He plans to add other pieces as his business expands. He has a contract to make bridal robes and offers alterations and tailoring.
“Those who know his history, know the quality of his work,” Adrienne said. “He is continually trying to get better.”
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